Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: The word 'fuck' derives from an acronymic phrase, either 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge' or 'Fornication Under Consent of the King.'
Variations: The 'acronym' is variously rendered as:
The acronymic explanation of the origin of 'fuck' takes one of two paths: Fornication Under Consent of the King or For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. Dealing with the first of these, though it's pleasing to think couples looking to procreate in those Dark Old Days had to first obtain the sovereign's persmission and then post a notice of what they were up to so all the neighbors could enjoy a good snicker, a moment's thought should set that one to rest. Were the king responsible for handing out such permissions, he wouldn't have time to do anything else (or even to keep up with that one task). Likewise, though there have been times when conquering forces have engaged in rape, it wasn't by royal fiat at the behest of a king looking to further dispirit the conquered.
One last nail in the coffin of the 'fornication under consent of the king' origin comes from the word 'fornication' itself. Though many reasonably conclude fornication is the old-time word for having sex, the term specifically excludes the physical union of man and wife. One can fornicate premaritally or extramaritally, but not intramaritally. In light of this, any claim wedded couples trying to entice the stork down their chimney were granted fornication permits crashes against the rock of the wrong word being used.
The second path has the word deriving from the short form of 'For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.' Variously, adulterers, rapists, child molesters, and them wot engaged in premarital hanky panky were, as part of their punishment, sentenced to wear a placard announcing their wrongdoing. According to this origin, adulterers locked the stocks in village squares sported 'FUCK' around their necks as did rapists walking around in prison yards.
Here, the word that trips that proposed etymology is the least obvious one — 'For.' Though displaying miscreants in stocks and public shaming were popular punishments in 18th and
Okay, so the word didn't come to us from an acronym; where did it come from then?
According to the alt.usage.english FAQ:
[Fuck] is a very old word, recorded in English since the 15th century (few acronyms predate the 20th century), with cognates in other Germanic languages. The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (Random House, 1994, ISBNIn plain English, this means the term's origin is likely Germanic, even though no one can as yet point to the precise word it came down to us from out of all the possible candidates. Further, a few scholars hold differing pet theories outside of the Germanic origin one, theories which appear to have some holes in them.
AHD1, following Pokorny, derived "feud", "fey", "fickle", "foe", and "fuck" from an Indo-European root peig2 = "hostile"; but AHD2 and AHD3 have dropped this connection for "fuck" and give no
'Fuck' is an old word, even if it's been an almost taboo term for most of its existence. It was around; it just wasn't used in common speech all that much, let alone written down and saved for posterity. Likely its meaning contributed to its precise origin becoming lost in the mists of time — scholars of old would have been in no hurry to catalogue the growth of this word, and by the time it forced its way into even the most respectable of dictionaries, its parentage was long forgotten.
The earliest cite in The Oxford English Dictionary dates from 1503. John Ayto, in his Dictionary of Word Origins cites a proper name (probably a joke or parody name) of 'John le Fucker' from 1250, quite possibly proof the word we casually toss about today was being similarly tossed about
Spurious etymologies such as this one satisfy our urge for completion — we want to believe such a naughty word has a salacious back story, something replete with stocks and adulterers, or fornication permits handed out by a king. How utterly prosaic to find out 'fuck' came to us the way most words sneak into the language — it jumped the fence from another tongue, was spelled and pronounced a bit differently in its new home, and over time drifted into being a distinct word recognized by everyone. Takes all the fun out of it, it does.
Acronymic explanations catch our fancy due to the "hidden knowledge" factor. Most of us feel a bit of a glow when we think we're in possession of information others aren't privy to, and when a titillating or apt story is thrown in behind the trivia, these things just take off. "Tips" does not come from "To insure prompt service," yet that canard is widely believed. Likewise, "golf" didn't spring to life out of "Gentlemen only; ladies forbidden," and "posh" did not take its place in our vocabulary from a shortening of "Port out; starboard home."
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